Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Are there standards for names in family trees?

Since I merged six family trees into one large tree this month, I've been trying to clean up the mess in my "big" family tree database in Family Tree Maker 16.

[For those wondering why I'm still working in FTM 16, it's a long story. Mainly it is because I am real comfortable with it and can work fairly quickly in it, and then I can import the native FTW file to FTM 2009 and RootsMagic.]

I would really like to create a genealogy database that I can be proud of, with standardized naming conventions and the like.

When I looked in my index list for the names, I found that I have been very inconsistent with my naming conventions, including:

* (unknown) - I have some persons named (unknown) because I don't know either their first or last birth names. This is different from persons with no names at all who are listed as I deleted them because they had no connections to any other person in my tree. Should I use underscores like _____ for an unknown name? Should I use FNU for "first name unknown" and LNU for "last name unknown?"

* known first name and unknown last name. I could use underscores or LNU.

* unknown first name and known last name. I could use underscores or FNU.

* Persons found with more than one first name in the records. Or a diminutive like Harry for Henry, Bob for Robert, Bert for Albert or Herbert, Molly for Mary, Abbie for Abigail, Peggy for Margaret, Sally for Sarah, etc. I've been putting these in as "Henry/Harry" (without the quotes) and getting a notice from FTM that there's an unrecognized character.

* Persons found with a first name in one record and an obvious nickname in another. I've been doing the same thing as the diminutive, e.g. "Henry/Skip." These are usually nicknames and I've seen them input as Henry "Skip" with the nickname in quotes.

* Widows (and divorcees too) that marry again. I have a lot of "Mary Jones (widow Smith)" in my database because Tom Brown married Mary Smith in the records and she was the widow of Mr. Smith. Even worse, I have many of these loose widows without a known maiden name. I shouldn't be inputting her as "Mary Smith" because I don't know her maiden surname. Should I be inputting "Mary _____ Smith" or "Mary MNU Smith?' Or just "Mary _____," "Mary MNU" or "Mary LNU" and connect her to an unknown "FNU Smith."

* I've also seen the string "--?--" in genealogy periodicals and books for unknown names.

I note that the Rootsweb WorldConnect databases have:

* 60,920 entries for surname - LNU
* 11,052 entries for surname MNU
* 92,331 entries for surname - Unk
* 5,232,913 entries for surname Unknown
* 181,428 entries for surname (Unknown)
* 20,305 entries for surname --?--
* 124,687 entries for surname _____
* 1,166,278 entries for surname ?
* 8,117 for surname ?????
* 78 entries for surname Whoknows
* 64 entries for surname Dontknow
* 37 entries with surname Mystery
* 1,493 entries for surname Who
* 35 entries for surname Who?

Are there any standards for inputting these names into a genealogy database? Who has the authority to deal with this? Have there been extended discussions about these issues that I've missed in books, articles, blogs, message boards or mailing lists?

What do you do in your genealogy software database?


rebecca said...

Gary Mokotoff and the International Institute for Jewish Genealogy have actually proposed a standard for name entry... Check it out here. I don't know if I agree with all his choices and think any kind of standard should be vetted by a panel of experts, like standards in the library world are, but still! I have all kinds of name forms in my db too, and I agree with you that it would be nice to have a standard!

September said...

Ooooh, that's a big question, Randy. And I know how you feel. I've been using tbd (to be determined), but do not know if there's a standard. And now that I'm looking for it, can't seem to find the Standards Manual that I know is here somewhere . . . soon as I find it, I'll let you know if it has any guidance.

swe2search said...

OK Randy, I am comfortable with the fact that if I don't have a maiden name I just leave it empty. If it is a widow and they say so because she is remarrying, I still leave the maiden name blank and place a new marriage for her. Her last name is blank and the first name of her first husband is blank. It is amazing how many times I have had information pop up that gives me the missing names!Of course I still have a tremendous amount of Marys, Sallys etc floating around, but they are linked in the data base to the correct person and that is all I need.

Miz J said...

Randy, I deal with the same thing. One thing I've recently changed regards people with more than one given name, and/or nicknames under which their records may be found. I used to use the quotation marks around alternate names, since the slash mark is rejected by FTM and Now I use "aka" between commonly used names. It's been working pretty well for me.

As for unknowns, I prefer to leave them blank, if possible, so as to not interfere with searches. But that's just me, maybe.

Miz J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Miz J said...

Thanks for posting the link to the standards proposal, Rebecca. Although there are some good suggestions, those that recommend using parenthesis and other punctuation will be problematic for users of, for one. Maybe time to lobby Ancestry for a programming change...?

Barbara Poole said...

For the women, with unknown last names, I put in their first name, say Mary (__) w/o John Smith (whatever the husband's name is). The advantage of this, is with FTM, the name will appear in the index of names as, Smith, Mary w/o John. At least the wife is with the husband, instead with unknowns, with no clue as to whom they married.

David said...


Diana Ritchie said...

You have "...many of these loose widows ", huh? And just what documentation do you have that shows they were "loose"? I think they probably just got a bad rap. ;-)

OK, all kidding thing I do for women were I don't know the maiden surname is to (1) leave the surname blank and (2) use the suffix field in the data base to put "wife of Thomas Aufflick" I use an exclusion marker so that wouldn't print, but then in my list of people, when I see a number of "Mary's" it's easier for me to pick out the one I want. I can also put in all the name variations as just that - a nickname, name variation etc so that's not an issue for me.

I do think you have an excellent point - it would be great to have standards rather than just "the system that I came up with one day"<---which is what I'm using ;-)

John said...

I would like to see and jointly publish a set of "Recommended Conventions For Data Entry".

This would be the closest you could get to a "standard" where there is clearly no agency constituted to issue such a standard.

Gary Mokotoff's proposed standard would be an excellent starting point for deliberations by if they should decide to promulgate recommendations for data entry.

Cousin Russ said...

Randy - Rather then posting a comment here, I have posted a blog entry here:

Thank you, Russ

GrannyPam said...

A lot of good suggestions here, which I wouldn't try to compete with. In general, If I don't know it, I don't enter it. That saves me trying to figure out what system I came up with.

I use Roots Magic, so how I handle this is influenced with how the program handles names.

Put another way, I am not comfortable with having code words, abbreviations or acronyms in my data base, so if I don't know it, I don't enter anything.

For the women with no surname, their husband's name shows in the family member box as I scroll through the person list, so I have no problem identifying which Mary or Elizabeth they are.

Roots Magic has a place for nicknames, and I put them there. That means I only have to choose a "main" name from my choices for an individual. Roots Magic automatically shows the nickname in quotes. Mary "Molly, Mollie" ExampleLastName.

TorillJ said...

First of all I would choose a genealogy software programme that allows me to putin as many alternative names as I need. I register in the name box the name given at birth. All other names are put in the alternative function with date and or another explanation.

Those I cannot give a name are colled "nn NN" the smal letters for unk first name and the capital letters for unk last name.

Eileen said...

I did my own standardization of names in my FTM database because my original entries were inconsistent and I was starting to get confused. Now, I enter a name fact for every name and variation. For example, I would have an entry for each of these names: William Noble, William J Noble, William Joseph Noble, Will Noble, Bill Noble, William Nolle (surname variant). Then when I search, I have this window open and can see all the different searches I want to make. I attach the source that I found for each variant. If it is an exact duplicate then I attach the second source to the same fact.

For spouses, I enter the married name. When I discover the maiden name, I add a name fact for that name.

If I have no name at all, I don't enter anything. I know a person was married but the source did not say to whom so I leave the spouse entry blank. That way I know what I am missing. Every entry has to match at least one source.

I may enter other facts about this person. For example, a census entry of an ancestory born here states that their parents were born in some other country. I enter a birthplace fact in the father and mother database slot but no names. That way I don't foget that I may need to do some special searching tofind out when they came here, etc.

This approach has really made it easier for me to know what I am lookin at, to search and to have no need to remember any more complicated system.

Anonymous said...

I use Unknown when the name is missing.

If it is a child, and basiclly that is all I know, then it is Child 1, Son 1, Daughter 1 - this way, when I do a merge, I know if those four children are four children, or two children twice!

For a missing maiden name I do Jane () Doe

Brett Payne said...

Thanks, Randy, for raising this issue, which interests me as have seen a wide variety of practices in use out there.

I'm possibly one of the only people left still using FTM v7.0, which I note will be ten years old in two weeks time! I upgraded that from FTM v3.0. I'm also still using the same first name and surname conventions that I started with, which I find simple and convenient.

1. Surname spellings
I tend to use the most common spelling of a surname, rather than varying it from generation to generation, and provide documentation of alternative spellings in the notes. This makes searching for individuals within families much easier. However, where the spelling of a surname has changed with a specific generation or at a specific point in time, I will use different spellings accordingly. If a single alternative spelling is commonly used by an individual, I will record that spelling as an AKA under the Notes.

2. Surname unknown
If a surname is unknown, I will use the convention that I believe was originally specified in FTM ver 3.0, i.e. instead of the surname I will use a double backslash, e.g. Margaret \\. This identifies the name "Margaret" as a first name, and indicates that the surname is as yet unknown. In addition, I use backslashes to surround a surname containing two or more separate words, e.g. \de Jager\. This identifies it as the surname wherever it is placed and shows in the index and any reports as a surname. It also allows you to add something after the surname, if you want to include a title in the primary name, e.g. Hugh \Bigod\ 1st Earl of Norfolk.

3. First name unknown
If I don't know the name of a person, although I wish to record/demonstrate that I am aware of that person's existence, I use the names e.g. Child PAYNE (if the gender is uncertain) or Son/Daughter PAYNE (if I do know the gender).

4. Nicknames
If there is space in the primary name field, I include commonly used nicknames in brackets after the first names and before the surname, e.g. Charles Vincent (Charley) PAYNE. For more than one alternative name or nickname, I use the AKA field under the Notes. The disadvantage is that the AKA doesn't show in a standard Genealogy Report, so I need to make sure that I include some documentation in the Notes. However, you can include the AKA in an Outline Descendant Tree.

I'll admit that there may be a few instances of non-conformity in database, but mostly they have been weeded out over the years.

Regards, Brett

AmericanInParis said...

I combined a number of different databases, too, from cousins who had started trees and wanted to consolidate them into one to pool information and be more efficient and effective.

One thing I started a long time ago (probably influenced by the fact that I live in France, where all caps in a surname is the standard in most writing) was to place a person's name in all caps as soon as I had finished my clean-up of that person's record. That's a visual for me that I can move on. If later I retouch that record for any reason and don't have time to bring it up to my standard, I reset the name from LASTNAME to Lastname - again, a visual that I have work to do.

If I have a married woman with an unknown maiden name, I do something similar to another poster - Mary Wife of John Smith. Sometimes I have a census record that shows the married woman living with her parents and a child - no husband. In that case it's Mary Jones as her Preferred Name Fact, Mary Smith as an alternate for the Name Fact, and in addition, a new person called Husband of Mary Jones Smith (which allows me to enter children with two parents, avoiding possible glitches down the line of spouseless relationships). In my family list then, I know he's a Smith, I know he's married to Mary Jones, and I know I don't have a first name. Quite a lot of times I then have a suggestion pop up from

Sometimes a census record will indicate an unknown first marriage for a man (or a woman). In that case I create a new record for First Wife of John Smith, so that I can enter the approximate marriage date. That also lets me enter any children with two parents. (Same thing for First Husband of Mary Jones Smith. There it's a little trickier. If there are children, I have a clue that the first husband's name is Johnson. If not, I'm stuck using her maiden name as his last name. But the "First Husband" bit is my visual that I have work to do.)

It's not perfect, but it's worked pretty well for me.

Cousin Russ said...

AmericanInParis -- My only comment about the Surname in Caps, and this is strickly from a Family Tree Maker view, Entering information into FTM should be Upper / Lower case. When Reports are printed, there are options to Print the Surname in Caps. We have those options.

Thank you,


Shelina (formerly known as Shasta) said...

Personally I don't like abbreviations like FNU because someone else might know what that means and might think that it is the person's name. I use a question mark for unknown first names. And leave the last names blank, because I was tired of seeing so many names in the index that started with a question mark! FTM has a field for nick names, so I use one name in the main name field (Henry Smith) and the other name in the nick name field (Hank Smith.)

Lantrix said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lantrix said...

@brett - you wrote "I'm possibly one of the only people left still using FTM v7.0". I'm using it as well. Since it is not Windows XP compatible I run it in a Windows 98 virtual machine on my mac laptop. It's still the "master" copy of the tree my father has done years of hard work on, so he feels comfortable still using it. I use it for reference and mainly keep it in sync with ancestry, geni, etc.

On topic, I note that most of the unknown names I have in my tree are either ? or X

Cousin Russ said...


Have you tried to install Version 7 on your XP Computer?

Have you considered upgrading to Version 2010? Not trying to sell it, but only pointing out that is does a pretty good job of syncing between your Computer and an Member Family Tree.


Lantrix said...

I tried to install V7 on XP. The installation CD has a setup.exe or some such, and it would not run.

FTM7 is what my father uses, and his computer is still Win98 - he said FTM7 works fine for him, does what he needs, and he wont upgrade windows or FTM (since newer versions need more than Win98). When I finally get him onto a new PC, I might be able to persuade him to upgrade to FTM2010.

That aside, I really only use FTM7 to view his research saved in FTW format from his win98 PC. I don;t actually research in it. As I use a Mac day to day my trees are exclusivly online in two places.

I've basically exported a GEDCOM from FTM7 and put it on, and then my father maintains his FTM7 and he assists with the ancestry family tree.

I'll tell him about the sync feature! Thanks.

On topic, I've settled for my naming standards as dad uses.

1. Firstname SURNAME
2. Child SURNAME for an unknown named/gender child
3. ? SURNAME for an unknown persons firstname (or sometimes x SURNAME).

It helps me compare my exported GEDCOMs from 3 products in an excel spreadsheet, so I know which entries are missing in certain apps/sites.

Brett Payne said...

@Lantrix - I managed to install FTM ver 7.0 without any difficulty on my machine, which uses Windows XP. Have no idea why. Regards, Brett.